By Duncan Mboyah                                                                                                   Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of the UN Environment has asked African governments to urgently put policies and finances needed to start adopting electric vehicles especially when the rate of rapid urbanization and population growth calls for new ideas and technologies that focus on accommodation and transport.

“The rate of urbanization requires the introduction of electric vehicles to help reduce air pollution,” Solheim said during the recent Africa Clean Mobility Week Conference in Nairobi. “If you get urbanization right, it leads to positive development but it is unfortunate if you get it wrong,” he added.

Hailing China for leading in developing electric mobility and also adopting them in streamlining their transport system, Solheim emphasized that the countries need to start re-planning their cities by creating walking paths and cycling space along the major roads to help reduce vehicle use and air pollution.

“Your governments must begin discussions with China and other countries that are leading in developing electric mode of transport globally,” he told various government officials attending the conference.

By linking 35 cities with metro services, China has set an example that transitional and developing countries should follow and just as it has happened in India, China and Vietnam. It can also happen in African countries,” the UN official notes.

He says that with the increasing different car makers globally, Africa need to acquire electric trams, cars and buses to reduce its air pollution and road congestions adding that constructions of major highways may not lead to reduction of vehicles on the roads.

He wondered why Africa continues to import used and old vehicles while electric vehicles are known to be cheaper than gasoline powered cars. Solheim warned that action need to start immediately to help reduce the rate of deaths caused by road accidents and air pollution that he said is far above deaths caused by known diseases lately.

Rob de Jong Head Air Quality and Mobility Unit at the UN Environment urged African governments to start adopting an alternative roadmap into adopting electric mobility. He told the countries to start using low sulphur fuels, stop importing old vehicles and import zero and low emission mobility.

“Consider introducing mass transport and develop footpaths to decongest and also reduce air pollution,” he added. “You need to develop a harmonized policy to help regulate the importation of the vehicles to avoid being duped by importers,” he said during Africa Clean Mobility Conference in Nairobi.

He noted that even though some countries have policies, majority does not have and that the existing policies are not uniform. De Jong observed that given that the countries have porous borders, it is important that a harmonized policy is developed as opposed to every country developing their own. “You need to copy the European Union (EU) that has a single policy that guides the importation of used cars,” he said.

Used vehicles are popular in most African countries yet their rate of pollution is higher compared to new vehicles. In East Africa alone, 70 percent of GHG emissions recorded comes from the transport sector that is dominated by the used vehicles.

De Jong said that more than 42 million used cars were imported in the continent mainly by Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Guinea, Cameron, Togo and Uganda in 2014 alone.

The official urged African governments to acquire affordable technology to help get quality used vehicles, fit for the operating environment and do not have adverse financial, environmental and health impacts.

The imported vehicles should be between three to five years old, proven to work well and clean for usage and De Jong commends Mauritius that imported four hybrid electric vehicles in 2016 and has increased the number to 4,000.

He said that UN Environment is ready to help the countries develop harmonized policies to avoid having several different policies while vehicle exporting countries must also stop dumping unsafe and dirty vehicles and start helping African countries leapfrog to clean and safe technology,” he noted.

He recommended that exporters contribute one U.S dollars per every exported car to help fix their environmental damage. Ethiopia and Tanzania has introduced electric transport in their countries.